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The therapeutic potential of a prison-based animal programme in the UK

Jenny Mercer (Department of Applied Psychology, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK)
Kerry Gibson (Department of Applied Psychology, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK)
Debbie Clayton (Department of Applied Psychology, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK)

The Journal of Forensic Practice

ISSN: 2050-8794

Publication date: 9 February 2015

Abstract

Purpose

Much evidence suggests that animals can serve as therapeutic tools for those working with vulnerable individuals. This exploratory study analysed the accounts of staff and offenders involved in a UK prison-based animal programme. The purpose of this paper was to explore the perceived impact of such a programme with male offenders.

Design/methodology/approach

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with three service users and five staff members. Participants were drawn from a special unit in a category B prison which housed an animal centre.

Findings

A thematic analysis identified four salient themes: a sense of responsibility, building trust, enhanced communication, and impact on mood and behaviour. Findings revealed that offenders seemed to gain particular benefit from interacting with the two Labrador dogs which were present on the wing.

Practical implications

The study highlights the therapeutic potential of the presence of animals in prisons. Their implications of this for forensic practice are discussed.

Originality/value

This paper offers an important contribution to the sparse literature about prison-based animal programmes in the UK.

Keywords

Citation

Mercer, J., Gibson, K. and Clayton, D. (2015), "The therapeutic potential of a prison-based animal programme in the UK", The Journal of Forensic Practice, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 43-54. https://doi.org/10.1108/JFP-09-2014-0031

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited